Gilde and Axa Show Sweet Tooth

Campbell Soup Company of the US in May sold its Continental Sweets Europe subsidiary for an undisclosed sum to an MBO team backed by the Gilde Buyout Fund and Axa Private Equity Fund.

The deal was Gilde’s second buyout from Campbell Soup, after the its 1997 investment in the German gourmet food products specialist Beeck Feinkost. It also represents the first joint investment made by Axa and Gilde Investment Management under their strategic alliance for cross-border transactions. The Gilde Buyout Fund took a majority holding in the buyout, and the Continental Sweets management team, headed by Paul Vermeulen and Theo Geeroms, has a significant minority stake. UBS arranged and underwrote both senior and mezzanine debt for the deal.

Continental Sweets manufactures and distributes sugar and chocolate confectionery in Western Europe through operations in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK. Its principal products include jellies, boiled candies, chocolates and bubble gum. Its Leo and Lutti brands have been in the market for more than 70 years, and the group is also a leading producer of private label confectionery in France and Belgium and of quality chocolate in France. The company is also the number one importer and distributor for several leading confectionery brands in the Benelux countries.

Continental Sweets saw its EBIT rise by 23% to around DFl 17 million (ecu 7.6 million), along with a 4.5% increase in sales to DFl 320 million, in the year to July 1997. This growth reflects the impact of cost-cutting programmes and expansion of the firm’s distribution activities as well as growth in sales of the Lutti brand.

Continental Sweets’ management expects the group to strengthen the position of its brands and to expand its distribution business further as an independent company.